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#4740: Drug Runners Are Finding the Going Easy in Haiti (fwd)


July 30, 2000

Drug Runners Are Finding the Going Easy in Haiti

 LÉOGÂNE, Haiti -- For Del Lydes, the drug planes that circle over the 
cornfields have become as common as the flies that buzz around his cows.
They swoop  down past the trees and roll to a stop along the two-lane
road that slices through the fields. Then men with machine guns       
stash their cargo -- cocaine -- into cars.  "Around here it is a cocaine
area," Mr. Lydes said. "A lot of people have moved. But others come at
night to wait  for the planes."  The "others" are his impoverished
neighbors, who gather in hope of snatching a few bags of cocaine they
can then sell for a fraction of the drug's street value in the United
States. Recently gunmen kept a mob at bay while unloading the drugs,
then abandoned the plane.The angry crowd tore it apart in a vain search
for drugs.  "People think they are going to get rich from cocaine," Mr.
Lydes said. "When they see a plane they gather around, but when the
pilots see them they scare off the plane." Unwittingly, these mobs have
become perhaps Haiti's only front-line deterrent to the Colombian
cocaine traffickers, who, ever adept at finding a weak spot in the
Caribbean through which to funnel their drugs northward, have flocked to
impoverished Haiti bringing cash, crime and corruption. Haiti's
inexperienced, understaffed and underpaid police force and courts have
proved irresistible to smugglers who ferry cocaine aboard speedboats and
small planes before hiding it in ships bound for Miami and Puerto Rico,
or just trucking it into the neighboring Dominican Republic. "My only
broad-gauge assessment is that Haiti is a disaster," said Gen. Barry R.
McCaffrey, director of the United States anti-drug effort. "We've got
weak to nonexistent democratic institutions, a police force that is on
the verge of collapse from internal corruption and an eroding
infrastructure that is creating a path of very little         
resistance. We are watching an alarming increase."  Since last October,
United States Customs officials have confiscated almost 7,000 pounds of
cocaine -- three times the total for the  previous year -- in Haitian
ships docked in the Miami River. American law enforcement officials
estimate that about 67 tons, or 14 percent, of the cocaine that enters
the United States now comes  through Haiti.  In general, more than half
of the cocaine headed for the United States flows through the Caribbean.
In recent years, American anti-drug agents have tried to focus more  on
Haiti, but have been hampered by a political paralysis that has left the
country without a functioning legislature for the last year and         
therefore prevented passage of money-laundering laws. In
addition,Haitian law enforcement officials say, the Americans are wary
of sharing information. Almost no drugs are confiscated in Haiti, which
is woefully under-equipped to wage the war on narcotics. There is a
three-year-old anti-drug police squad with just 25 members. Local
authorities have no radar or helicopters to monitor Haiti's airspace and
fewer than 10 boats to patrol the coastline. Some 250 police officers
have been dismissed for drug-related crimes.Evidence of the riches
trafficking has brought can be seen in Belvil, a sprawling gated
community of luxury homes that has boomed conspicuously in an otherwise
desperate economy. New construction is everywhere, and new gas stations
dot the Port-au-Prince area, some offering to wire money in $1,000
installments to Colombia.In other parts of the country, the coasts are
littered with the burned shells of speedboats and the roads with the
wrecks of small planes that have skidded into steep embankments. No one
knows how Many make it through unscathed. The Haitian police have seized
some cocaine shipments in recent  months, including 550 pounds inside a
Belvil home. Local crowds  have stolen parts of other shipments; in the
town of Grand-Goâve in  May, the police recovered only 323 pounds of a
suspected 4,400-pound shipment. Among those who tried to steal drugs was
the town's deputy mayor, who was shot dead by his bodyguard in a dispute
over his share."I think the volume is progressively increasing," said
Pierre Denizé,the director of the Haitian National Police. "The
Colombians went from fast boats to more and more airdrops and
clandestine landings.  They have this world-renowned capacity to stay
one step ahead of the repression." Haitian law enforcement officials
said that drug pilots had free run of the skies once the international
airport and its radar closed in the early evening. Even when American
surveillance planes spot a drug  plane entering Haitian airspace,
limited manpower and rough roads mean there is often little authorities
can do to intercept it. "We follow planes and boats into Haiti, but
there is no endgame," said Raymond Kelly, the Customs Service
commissioner. "There is no entity on the ground that can respond
quickly. We need  help. They need help." Even searching sitting targets
can be daunting to the few inspectors assigned to outlying areas, like
the busy port of Gonaïves. "If you go to any harbor outside of
Port-au-Prince and try to find a  law enforcement person, it's like
finding Waldo in those kid's books," said an American Embassy official.
"Very few take the initiative to search the boats because they have no
way out. Twice in the past year, the Haitian Coast Guard had to go to
Gonaïves to take personnel off the pier because they were being
threatened."  The Drug Enforcement Administration has eight agents
stationed in Haiti, where they train the local anti-narcotics squad,
which in the last 12 months has confiscated $4 million in drug profits
that were  being smuggled out of the country. The United States Coast
Guard also has permission to patrol Haitian waters, and it is helping
the  Haitian government open several new ports, which would allow 
Haitian anti-drug officers to spread out from Port-au-Prince.    Haitian
officials said they have asked banks to collect information on
people depositing more than $10,000 in cash. But money-laundering
laws that would allow closer investigations have been stalled
in          Parliament. Immigration authorities require visas for
visitors from
 Colombia, and the airport police routinely question arriving
 Colombians and keep their passports until they leave. Haitian law
enforcement officials, for their part, complain that cooperation with
the United States has been disappointing. "Given how much cocaine the
United States says comes through here, you'd  think they'd be as good at
catching drug boats as they are with stopping refugee boats, which they
excel at," said a high-ranking  Haitian official. "They say this is a
war, but is it?" Several high-ranking Haitian law enforcement officials
said they  almost never got advance word about suspicious incoming
planes.  "The United States sits where it sits and says we are not doing
 anything about this," Mr. Denizé, the police chief, said. "Hey, I'm
 willing. But I can't initiate the interception, or the radar, or the
boats  or the intelligence sharing. I can't go bust someone if I don't
know who or where he is." But American officials are worried that
drug-related corruption has penetrated the police force and even the
government. Earlier this year, the police inspector general was
transferred to a diplomatic post when he investigated several police
supervisors on suspicion of helping the drug smugglers. There has also
been constant talk that several recently elected senators of the Family
Lavalas party, which is headed by former President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide, are involved in the drug trade. Party officials deny this
charge, saying it is misinformation spread by  political opponents to
discredit the party.  "I would suspect there are officials who are
involved," an American diplomat said. "We have some evidence of that.
The question is how high it goes up. We have no corroboration of any
kind suggesting that it is at the highest levels of government."        
Some American officials admit that they are careful when sharing      
information with Haitian counterparts. The fact is we factor in
corruption as part of our strategy when we are dealing with Haitian
smuggling," a Customs official said.General McCaffrey said that given
the "collapsing" relationship with Haitian law enforcement agencies, the
United States was focusing on the drugs after they leave Haiti and reach
the Dominican  Republic, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas. "The ability of
the noncorrupt Haitian law enforcement and customs  authorities to
combat this is diminishing rapidly," General McCaffrey said. "The
political will to support them isn't there."